This post is reincarnated from this post. (Because breaking down how various German punk songs helped me learn the language doesn’t fly as well with the work audience.) NOTE: Sorry to anyone who read this earlier in the day. For some reason the YouTube embeds just disappeared.
Year Zero. Frankfurt am Main, Germany. It was the year of the au pair. The year of graffiti appreciation. The year of loneliness and mad cap plans and then finding and bikes and more, but very different, mad cap plans. It was the year of much trail-by-fire, DIY, bluff-your-way-through it language learning. I took classes. They helped. But what helped even more was music.
In my former life, German music was a field that belonged exclusively to Kraftwerk, Rammstein, Nena, Bach, Beethoven, and a whole lot of techno. I didn’t love any of it. (Confession: I listened to Kraftwerk for the first time one month ago.) But I knew there must be more, knew there must be punks singing in German, and I asked around until I ended up with three CDs in my hands: Die Kassierer, Hass, and Quetschenpaua. If you have ever heard of any of those bands you can say it with me: oh my.
It is an easy mistake to make, and how could I have known? Say “Deutsch Punk” to someone who knows what they are talking about and you won’t end up with German Punk Music, General. You will end up inside a genre so specific that most of the population has never heard of it. Die Kassierer and Hass belong to this genre. At its best it is dirty, underproduced four-chord punk music with a most excellent sense of humor (though Die Kassierer and Hass got too big to still qualify for “underproduced.” At its worst it is completely unlistenable garbled garbage. My personal Deutsch Punk heroes are a now-defunct band called Ultrapunk, but they were too disorganized and (probably) drunk to ever get around to getting themselves on youtube. Too bad. Their lyrics are pure gold. They would have been very helpful when I was translating songs to improve my German. Instead I was listening to this (I like the Kassierer’s version more, but it isn’t on youtube either):
But hell, either way you look at it, a love song that starts outside of a library wins at least a handful of points.
Then there was Hass. I never quite warmed up to their sound, though their anti-fascism is endearing.
It was Quetschenpaua that I ended up listening to the most. Folk punk with an accordion. Songs about anarchists and demos and penguins and pirates and revolution and Berlin. It was right up my alley. Particularly then, when I was still all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about just about everything.
I sang the lines about the penguin who lives in Berlin with my au pairing charges. I learned what Labello and Captain Igloo were (chapstick and a fishsticks brand, respectively). I heard the expression “Unter dem Pflaster liegt der Strand” (Beneath the pavement, the beach) for the first time. I got the chorus stuck in my head constantly.
If you’ve ever gotten a song stuck in your head, you know how pervasive, how invasive music can be. Which is ideal when it comes to memorizing vocabulary in a new language. You want those words reverberating inside your head, unable to escape, and complete with an easy-to-remember context. Music does that without you having to do anything more than press “play.”
And look. Science agrees!
“In the 1970s, extensive research was carried out into the powers of music in the learning process, by the Bulgarian physician Georgi Lozanov. He revealed that music puts listeners into a state of relaxed alertness, the ‘alpha state,’ the ideal state of consciousness for learning, and his tests were conclusive.
“More recently, in the March 2005 issue of the journal ‘Nature’ researchers at Dartmouth College in the US reported that they had pinpointed the region of the brain where ‘ earworms ‘ or catchy tunes reside, the auditory cortex. They found that the sounds and words that have actually been heard can be readily recalled from the auditory cortex where the brain can listen to them ‘virtually’ again and again. Music it seems is the ideal catalyst to the memorisation of words.” (source)
Another study has also pointed to the possibility that “the extra information provided in music can facilitate language learning.”
To this day I still remember the words of one of the pirate songs that my au pair charges liked to listen to. Robbi der Seeräuber segelt an der Wind. Robbi der Seeräuber tut nur das was ihm gefällt. Robbi der Seeräuber segelt an der Wind! Und wir segeln mit ihm weil wir auch Piraten sind! Cha-cha-cha!
Have you used music as a foreign language-learning crutch? What did you listen to?
Old time country music. When someone asks, as someone inevitably does any time they interview us, what I find so attractive about the genre (besides the sound), it usually comes down to community. Old time country is music you played on your porch with your friends. Traditionals became traditionals because back in the day you had to learn it to hear it. With a common stock of traditionals, you could form an impromptu band with just about anyone, which was really important before recorded music made it something you could have anytime anywhere. DIY or sit in silence mother fucker! And not only does old time country music invoke a strong tradition of DIY, but it is a genre that often celebrates nature and spending time outside—the pretty place you live, the blossom of a particular plant, the joys of fishing. These are things that I like.
But the dark side of country is dark indeed. There is racism and there is sexism and there are far too many songs about women being killed by men. I can appreciate the darkness of a good murder ballad, but why are most murder ballads about men killing their ladies, often their lovers? The majority of murder ballads come down to two main stock stories. One: lady loves dude, dude kills lady, dude regrets it because he is in jail. Two: dude loves lady, lady doesn’t want to marry dude, dude kills lady, dude regrets it because he is in jail. Take a look at a few examples. You don’t even have to listen to any of the songs I’ve listed below to get the idea. I’ve summed up the story of each in a few sentences.
Girl says she wants to marry boy. Boy and girl go on a walk. Boy stabs girl to death. Possibly because of some dubious past reputation. (Slut! Slut! Cough.)
banks of the ohio
Girl won’t marry boy. Boy goes on walk with girl. Boy drowns girl and throws her body in the river.
down in the willow garden
Boy and girl go on walk. Boy stabs girl and throws her in the river. Boy cries. Poor poor boy. He really loved that girl.
Boy goes to visit girl. Boy ties girl up and shoots her. Boy sure wishes he had married her instead.
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl go for a walk. Boy beats girl. Boy throws girl in the river. Boy angry! Boy loved girl! Girl wouldn’t marry boy!
Girl marries boy. Girl cheats on boy. Boy kills girl and her lover boy.
darlin corey / dig a hole in a meadow
Girl plays banjo and brews whiskey. Girl corrupts men with her whiskey. Girl is killed.
I also found an entire play list of songs about men killing women here, which was quite disturbing to see on a screen. There are also other old time country standards about men killing women that I didn’t find good (or any) examples of on youtube, such as Tom Dooley and Little Sadie. And don’t forget Johnny Cash’s other killing-lady ballads: Cocaine Blues and Transfusion Blues, which are basically the same song.
is this misogyny?
Misogyny means a “hatred of women,” something that you can find manifesting in gender-based discrimination, violence, and objectification. And yet, perhaps, here, the word is inaccurate in this context. When you look at the stories told in many man-kills-women murder ballads, you’ll find that these dudes just love women so much that they need to off them in order to prevent anyone else from getting them. Tough love! Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth.
As author David Wong explains in this articulate article on how modern men are conditioned to hate women, our culture teaches men to think of themselves as being owed a pretty lady. Because of this message, which is incredibly prevalent once you become aware of it, many men—men who have perhaps internalized this message without even realizing it—become very angry when they don’t get what they feel they have been promised. “It’s why every Nice Guy is shocked to find that buying gifts for a girl and doing her favors won’t win him sex. It’s why we go to ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ as our default insults—we’re not mad that women enjoy sex. We’re mad that women are distributing to other people the sex that they owed us,” explains Wong.
The message in many of these songs is similar to what Wong describes: When men can’t have the toys that they want, and which they are pretty sure they are owed god damn it, they have to break the ladies so that nobody else can play with them (Knoxville Girl, Matty Groves, Banks of the Ohio). In others, we just see men killing women for the hell of it (Delia’s Gone, Little Sadie), or because they have a “shady” reputation (Pretty Polly). Or because they dared to cross over into the male domain of whiskey brewing and banjo picking (Darlin Corey). Soooo, I would say the word misogyny applies without a doubt.
Though the majority of the men in these songs end up in jail, many remorseful, the fact that so many songs talk about men killing women is telling. They reflect the culture we live in, and in reflecting it, perpetuate it. These are catchy, fun songs. People sing along, internalizing them, and playing a role in our acceptance of this sort of thing as status quo. Were there fewer women killing men or were there just too few women in the genre at the time to write about it? What about the ladies who kill dudes? Why do they do it?
Girl marries boy. Boy beats girl. Girl poisons boys peas.
Boy visits girl. Boy tries to rape girl. Girl kills boy with a broken bottle.
Both of these examples of lady-on-man murder ballads are incredibly disturbing, and as both are songs about women killing men we can say that the violence goes both ways. Gunpowder and Lead by Miranda Lambert and Independence Day by Martina McBride also deal with similar story lines (though they cross firmly into pop country). But take a closer look at the differences in motivation in the man-kills-lady versus the lady-kills-man songs. The male murderers are killing women because the women won’t sleep with them or marry them or because they feel like it. The lady murderers are killing men because the men are beating them, raping them, and trying to kill them. There are exceptions (in Frankie and Johnny, for example, the lady kills her lover because he is cheating on her, a female version of Matty Groves), but by and large, you’ve got dudes killing women for the hell of it and ladies killing dudes in self defense.
Another difference in the songs about women killing men: all of the examples I was able to find were recorded in the last 25 years (Frankie and Johnny being the one exception again)—a correlation I can only assume corresponds to increasing gender equality and women’s rights. . Goodbye Earl was written by Dennis Linde in the 1990s before being recorded by the Dixie Chicks in 1999. Gillian Welch recorded Caleb Meyer in 1998. Miranda Lambert’s Gunpowder and Lead came out in 2007 and Independence Day in 1993. None of them truly even fit into the old time country genre—neither in sound nor in time period. Though the number of country songs about men killing women is depressing, the fact that recent years have brought more female voices telling women’s stories is slightly heartening. And for my next trick I will add one to their numbers.
You might be asking yourself how it is that I came to be so obsessed with post-apocalyptic fiction and imagery. The answer is simple. I used to dream of revolution, but after a couple years I became very, very disillusioned. I just can’t believe we’re going to make it. I can’t believe that a revolution that could save us from this shit storm (environmentally, politically, etc) is possible, that we could pull it off without being slaughtered, every one, by the government strong arms. And if we did pull it off (whoever “we” are), would we be able to do so in such as way that we wouldn’t end up repeating all the same mistakes?
Forgive me for my lack of optimism.
The first time I heard the term “collapse” was in the work of Derrick Jensen. He spoke of an environmental collapse as the inevitable result of said shit storm. His logic made sense. Not only did it make sense, it gave me hope that there was a force in the world that could put a stop to a lot of the environmental devastation, among other things, that it didn’t rely on reaching a consensus at the coalition meeting. The world around us is not static. Every change inflicted results in further changes, like dominoes falling in line. The way it looks from here, those changes aren’t going to be too friendly for the like of humans or the like of our way of living up to now. But still, in the prospect of destruction, I saw hope, gruesome though that hope may be. See.
Then again, maybe I’m just a coward. Maybe the focus on collapse is a complete cop out.
My love of post apocalyptic imagery writhes in ambivalence. I want the apocalypse to come (by that I generally am thinking of the end of industrial civilization) because it breaks my heart into tiny little pieces thinking about all the creatures getting killed by human carelessness and stupidity on a daily basis. The idea that we could actually start fresh, without a painfully slow political process for change, is incredibly appealing. Yet I also don’t want it to come because, duh, I’ll be dead. As much as I like to daydream that I survive, the odds are against it. I live in a big city! I’m 30! I don’t know how to use any weapons! The odds really, really aren’t in my favor. That and I would probably never see all my America lovelies ever again. And yet, the imagery remains appealing, beautiful to me in a sorrowful way that is hard to put into words.
Dead Flag Blues by Godspeed You Black Emporer is the queen, the king—no fuck gendered words—the monarch of post-apocalyptic songs. It is devastatingly sad, yet beautiful in spite of itself. It is a song full of wringing hands and failure, corpses and flames. And yet love remains.
I’ve typed out the lyrics, for anyone who would rather read than listen…
The car is on fire and there is no driver at the wheel, and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides. And a dark wind blows. The government is corrupt, and we’re on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn. We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death. The sun has fallen down, and the billboards are all leering, and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles.
It went like this:
The buildings tumbled in on themselves, mothers clutching babies picked through the rubble and pulled out their hair. The skyline was beautiful on fire all twisted metal stretching upwards, everything washed in a thin orange haze.
I said, “Kiss me, you’re beautiful. These are truly the last days.” You grabbed my hand and we fell into it, like a daydream or a fever.
We woke up one morning and fell a little further down for sure it’s the valley of death. I open up my wallet and it’s full of blood.
It is hard to write a love song that isn’t cheesy. Try it. I don’t mean go write a song right now. But think about love and the people you love and then let a few words come to mind. Those first words are bound to be cliche, Hallmarked. It doesn’t make them meaningless, but it does mean they are going to make an annoying, if not downright bad, song. Put even the slightest bit of schmaltz to music and it becomes magnified, a big gooey horror come to melt the contents of your thinking meat.
I suppose I have managed it once, now that I think of it (Crow’s Nest), but that song is more about direct action than love (it isn’t on the internet at the moment, but you can listen to some of our other songs about direct action and revoltion and change here). Anyway. My other friend! She’s on her way to our place from Holland so that we can learn each other’s songs and collaborate on an album together later in the year. In preparation I have been listening to some recordings she sent non-stop, trying out harmonies and memorizing lyrics. And I have a new favorite love song. Life of Crime! Making out in stolen cars, missing each other while stuck in jail, getting into bar fights, and laying drunk on the ground looking at the stars. It is fucking brilliant, she has a gorgeous voice, and I can’t wait until we get the album finished so you can hear it too. I also can’t wait to sing harmonies with her. Singing is so much more fun when there are two of you who can melt those sounds into one. Good harmonies just kill me.
Meanwhile, I have been stuck for weeks, no months, on lyrics for the heap of new songs we’ve got on the line. But I am hoping the the fire in her songs sparks and lights something in me for mine. I have so many ideas, thematically. But fitting words have yet to come. It is strange, and I suppose that is the rub of writing something like poetry. When I write prose, even if I don’t find a single magical turn of phrase, I can still write a story, maybe even one that enchants through its doings rather than through its sayings. Not so with lyrics. Writing those is an art all its own, and one I never thought I would be much good at. I never liked poetry much, reading it or writing, and yet here I am doing it anyway. Strange.
So I am curious. What song lyrics do you find totally fucking spot on genius? Send me youtube links in the comments. Inspiration would make a pretty sweet Christmas present. Songs with harmonies that just kill you also welcome.
When I think about it—and I often do—the fact that living in tiny houses has become a movement is kind of strange. I mean, that used to just be the way it was, right? Normal people didn’t live in huge McMansions. Half of the time people were in homes that might be considered far too small for the number of people living in them. Nomadic peoples built shelters like the teepee. Small houses were the norm. Then we (in the western world at least and particularly in America) got all crazy and now couples live in huge, echoing structures that are so big they have to hire someone to help them clean. Fuck that.
In Germany I don’t hear people talking about a “tiny house movement” so much. Why? Coincidence, perhaps, together with the fact that most of the houses here are really frickin old, also know as from “the time before McMansions became accessible to people below the upper upper class.”
But things got out of hand and now there’s a movement that’s bringing people back down to earth. Well move this! If you’ve been around for a while, you know that my partner, daughter, and I live in a tiny house on wheels in a community of folks living in houses on wheels (called Bauwägen). There are 130 of these communities throughout Germany, and we celebrate the lifestyle. It is a choice that has allowed us to live our lives on our terms, sans the kind of jobs that make us feel trapped and uncomfortable and miserable. We celebrate it so much that when we made band t-shirts this summer, we decided to put a lovely drawing of a tiny house on them. At the time all three band members lived in tiny houses and for as long as we’ve been making music we’ve been having practice in the same tiny caravans. Not quite as small as this, but you get the idea. Tiny houses were in part responsible for us having found each other to make music in the first place.
So! If you love tiny houses, please consider buying our t-shirt! Even if you aren’t really into folk music (though if you are you can check us out here), buy ‘em for the beautiful tiny house on the front. Or buy ‘em cause you love whiskey (the back reads: “no borders but whiskey,” which is a reference to one of our songs). We had a friend screen print a very limited number of shirts at his workshop in Berlin, in sand and charcoal, and once they are gone, they are gone forever. We’ve got S, M, L, and XL (no specifically “ladies” sizes, but I find the fit good, and you can always buy an XL and Frankenstein sew that shit). And the Beard and I are currently living off of the money we make selling them, so you’d also be supporting some tiny housers and particularly Click Clack Gorilla in her further pursuit of tiny house online documentation.
how to order
Pick a size: S / M / L / XL
Pick a country (where we should ship the shirt) and note the price:
Germany 11.35 (euros)
Europe 13.45 (euros)
America 13.45 (euros) or 16 dollars
Click the link below to send us that amount via paypal. Include your shipping address in the notes, along with the size and color you would like. Wala! If you would like to send money by some other means, just drop me an email, and we can work something out (nicolettekyle AT yahoo DOT com). UPDATE: The paypal donate button seems to have expired. So please just paypal the money to nicolettekyle AT googlemail DOT com. Sorry about that!
It was John Darnielle’s dirty, fizzley, basement-boom-box recordings that first trained me to turn a deaf ear to scrappy guitar and to love music that did little more than tell a damn fine story. The Mountain Goats’ early recordings are the music that macheted the way for what would come into my headphones after: anti-folk. (They are also partially to blame for the folk punk, but that’s another story.)
Anti-folk music covers a whole range of sounds, but generally it’s silly and irreverent. It usually isn’t the pristine guitar licks or a perfect melody, but the detailed, satirical lyrics that take center stage. Though a lot of music snobs have a hard time getting past the musical hollowness of much of the genre, I fucking love it. LOVE IT. As a singer and a writer it was always the melodies and the lyrics that got me anyway. Kimya Dawson is one of the genre’s royalty. Jeffrey Lewis is another favorite of mine. And then there’s Phoebe Kreutz.
I discovered Phoebe Kreutz’s music quite by accident. Back when we used to be called Black Diamond Express Train to Hell, we played a show in Cologne with her. She was awesome. We played another show with her, years later, in Mainz. She was still awesome. Her lyrics were hilarious and tight. She wrote songs about books (A Bad Feeling About Anna Karenina and The Lonesomest Dove on the F). She wrote songs about straight edge kids and her ass and Queen Elizabeth and a lesbian cowgirl and someone pooping on her doorstep. All of which were hilarious and fantastic. We (being the Black Diamonds) quickly became the people at the show who could sing along to all the songs.
Well, Phoebe is back in Germany, on tour with her trumpeting companion Matt Colbourn. Last night at No.2 Records in Frankfurt Sachsenhausen they played a few ditties while the Beard and I distracted Baby Pickles by letting her flip through the rows of CDs and plastic-covered vinyl. And while they were playing, I realized that one of Phoebe’s newer songs is perfect for the apocalypse mix tape I’m always making in my head.
The apocalypse mix tape isn’t the sort of mix tape I’d play at the arrival of the end times. It is the sort of tape I’d play now, while thinking about the end times. The sort of tape filled with songs about the end times. Post apocalyptic lit for your ears. And sitting here this morning working on a blog about the concert for another website, I realized that cataloguing and sharing these songs would make a fun weekly addition to Click Clack Gorilla. So here we are, lalalalalalaLA!
Phoebe’s addition to the mix tape is a song called The Day the Basement Flooded. It starts with her basement in New York flooding, and ends with the thought that, well hell, if the world ends, I want to be with you, baby. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to write a totally sweet, upbeat end times love song, but she did it. Apocalypse or not, it is one of the sweetest love songs I’ve heard in a while. One of my favorite lines:
“If the planet floods I think our little basement probably is screwed. We should move to higher ground in like a dryer latitude. And I will be in charge of weeping, you’re in charge of finding food. Cause the future’s pretty scary, and it may not be so great. But if the end of times is coming then I’m glad I’ve got a date. If we have to stat a new world cause the current one’s a dud, I hope that you’ll be with me in the flood.”
So have a watch. Listen closely to the lyrics. Enjoy.
While I’m selling Phoebe’s snake oil, there was another new(ish) song of hers that I thought you all might enjoy. Called Frankenstein, it is about the perils of science. How there are certain things that, when you investigate, turn out to be monsters. It seems like it would be the perfect anthem for anti-GMO folks. “We got what we want, just not the way we wanted.” I’ve been listening to these two on repeat all morning.
Seven day tour with a baby? Why the hell not? Then again, why? Why why why? When the Beard mentioned, way back when, that he wanted to plan a longish tour with our folk trio Battenkill Ramblers for this October I said sure. But secretly, I wasn’t very excited. I have very mixed feelings about touring, with or without getting a needy little human involved.
A few months before, we had been on a three-day trip with Baby Pickles—our first string of shows further than an evening’s train ride away—and it had been stressful. By and large it went ok, but the car rides were long and full of Pickles’ screams and tears. At that point we hadn’t started giving her bottles (supplementary feeding, which we have had to do because of some problems I had, I always did with this crazy gadget), and the van we used only had a car seat appropriate seat belt in the front. What that all meant was that she was pretty damn hard to console, and either the Beard or I had to be standing in order to even try. That was when I implemented the “at least one of us has to be buckled up at all times so that if we get in an accident she’ll at least still have one parent” rule. What a barrel of monkeys.
And so it was with a low level of dread that I watched our October tour dates approach on the calendar. I was excited too, but when I thought about the car rides with Baby Pickles, of the potentially horrendous sleeping situations, and of the late nights, I had to wonder if saying yes to the trip had been a good idea after all. I like the idea of being able to tour with a baby. I like playing music, and I like seeing new places and meeting new people. But what I like more than all of those things combined is sleep, something that can be hard to come by even on non-baby tours.
Photo below: The first night we played in Karlsruhe and slept in a gallery. Up before everyone else, we did a little photo shoot. Pickles loves standing. Too bad she still can’t do it by herself.
in the car
So how did it all go? Surprisingly well. I got a lot of sleep, the car rides were short and (almost) painless, and I found myself having a better time than I have had touring in a long time. In part this was because the Beard had planned our route to involve the shortest possible drives. With only about an hour in the car each day (the longest drive was just short of three hours), there wasn’t much time for Pickles to get upset. When she did, I was able to unbuckle myself and tip myself into her car seat for a bit of nursing (uncomfortable, but better than listening to screaming). Or offer her a bottle. And a couple of times she just fell asleep all by herself. (Miracle!) With shoulder seat belts on all the van’s seats, the Beard and I could plant Pickles right between us, which meant no standing. Hallelujah. When she was awake she particularly enjoyed chewing on the laminated band pass for a festival we had played during our last three-day tour. Not too shabby.
Photo above: For the most part I got really awesome sleep this tour, but there was one total zombie day, and this was it. Obviously nobody told Pickles it was zombie day, huh?
the fight for enough shut eye
As for sleep, Baby Pickles has never had a problem sleeping where ever we happen to be. If I’m still out and about when she’s tired, she conks out in the Boba Wrap. Though recently there have been more and more nights during which she has fussed until I’ve gotten her horizontal. Either way, my wrap is essential. Every time I put the damn thing on I see the little label with their motto printed on it, “Freedom Together,” and I think to myself how fucking cheesy. Then I sigh inwardly and think, and how fucking true. Since you’re hanging out in all sorts of random places when you’re traveling with a baby, having a carrier, no matter what kind, where the babe can get comfortable while you have your hands free for eating and packing and sound checking is great. The fact that wrap carriers can be folded up into a small little bundle only adds to their essential-ness when traveling.
I had wondered if the “new bed every night” thing might upset Pickles’ sleep in some way, but as you can see from the photo above, she was generally in a rollicking good mood. My main concern when it came to sleep had been being able to get enough myself, sleep-grubbing monster that I am. Concerts have a way of always starting just when I’d usually be putting on sweatpants and falling into bed, but as we were the openers this time around, we always got to play first aka a tad earlier than usual. Score. The other problem with getting to bed early on tour is often that the sleeping quarters are somewhere far away from the venue, somewhere that needs to be driven to, somewhere that you can’t get to until every one else is finished playing and drinking and enjoying themselves. This worried me most of all. But! Oh sweet fate! This tour that was only the case once. So every night I watched the Froggy Mountain Boys play a few songs and then slipped off to bed.
Even though I was still getting much less sleep than usual and napping remained essential (aka baby juggling between the Beard and I needed to be planned around meeting times and car rides), I felt much better than I expected and much better than I have on any other tour. See, on tour without a baby you almost always end up drinking too much—the drinks are free after all. On tour with a baby you just don’t. I mean, you could, but I didn’t because I am breast feeding, and with a milk shortage problem, I am absolutely horrified at the thought of having to pump and dump. Some nights I drank two beers, some nights two Radler (that’s beer mixed with lemonade), and some nights nothing at all. Which is a really good way to never get a hangover. I sometimes vaguely miss the ruckus, but I sure don’t miss the headaches. And did I mention that I still can’t stand the taste of whiskey? Sigh. One step at a time.
Photo below: Baby Pickles outside of the Vrankrijk—apparently one of the (or THE) oldest squat in the Holland—before the last show of the tour. Not even a year old and she’s already been to more countries than I had been to at 20.
Packing for a baby is basically the biggest bitch of the whole baby-on-tour ordeal. I always end up packing too much clothing, but then again, with the potential for a baby to get covered with food/spit/pee/poop and cod knows what else, I would say that more is always, always more. Then you’ve got diapers, feeding gear, toys and before you know it, your baby has taken up all the space in your suitcase. Good thing that since having a baby you’ve gotten into the habit of forgetting everything you might need to bring along. (True story.) This trip we had the added challenge of starting in a van, but ending on a train. Because the Froggies would be driving back to Berlin from Amsterdam, they dropped us off at a train station rather than drive hours out of their way to drop us off. I packed with this in mind and still cursed myself for every extra gram on that last tired day. But as far as baby gear went, it was worth it. See, look at how happy all those toys made her (photo below, in our sleeping quarters in Solingen). It was good to have enough to keep rotating the baby distracting devices in the car or for a few minutes of peace before going onstage.
cloth diapers on parade
But oh the diapers. On our three-day tour we brought cloth. I have a sweet Planet Wise wet/dry bag that I fucking love and that makes doing this pretty easy. (One pouch for the clean diapers, one water-tight pouch for all the used ones.) But this trip around we weren’t really on top of the laundry. We have a hell of a lot of cloth diapers (52 originally, minus the tinies that don’t fit anymore), but a hell of a lot of cloth diapers is roughly enough for three days. Which means that in order to have them all clean and dry (when you don’t have a dryer) takes some serius planning. Because we played a show in Frankfurt (aka home) on day two of our tour, we only needed enough for five days, but shit. 1. We don’t own enough cloth diapers for five days so we would need to get our asses to a laundromat sometime during tour and 2. Did I mention that we totally weren’t on top of the laundry situation? So we used cloth in Karlsruhe, and when we returned to Frankfurt for show number two, I did more wash. When it was time to leave for show number three, it wasn’t all dry. And so, boo hoo hoo hoo, we decided at the very last second to use disposables for the tour.
Photo below: Baby Pickles getting changed on a couch at a venue. She didn’t seem too fussed about the switch to disposables, even if I kind of was.
The Beard has suggested doing this for tour and shows a couple of times, and I’ve always been all NO FUCKING WAY! But with wet diapers hanging everywhere, and a serious need to bring as little stuff along as possible, I had to agree. Using disposables was an easy out, and since it was only this one package this once, I could afford to buy the biodegradables. My main beef with disposables—right after their price, environmental consequences, and the whole baby-skin-on-chemical-crap factor—is that I hate the way they look and feel. But as Baby Pickles didn’t seem to mind, we all ended up ahead. Except for that 8 euros I spent on the paper pants. Ah well.
Photo below: Pickles in Amsterdam with one of the Froggies.As we didn’t have room for an extra babysitter in the van this trip (our usual deal when playing shows), the Froggies took turns with Pickles when we played. This led to the discovery that she falls asleep quickly to early Motorhead. Heh.
in conclusion, fucking finally
What I figure is this. Touring with your baby can be total awesome! Plan a lot! Bring lots of extra clothes! Make compromises for the sake of convenience and sanity! Bring a babysitter if you can! Most important though, I think, is to not let the thought of the potential stress of it all scare you into not leaving the house. Yer baby will get to have a lot of awesome experiences because of it, and so will you.
NOTE: There are three affiliate links in here. I included them for sake of illustration in case you don’t know what the f I’m talking about, but if you like what you see and end up buying it through the link, then I get some hot cash. So you know, don’t feel dupped but do what you’ve gotta do.
I have to chuckle when I think of it now: in the time it would take me to drive across New Jersey, I could be in Holland. Shit, in a plane, in about the time it takes to watch an episode of Dexter, I could be just about fucking anywhere. Well, not in Brazil, but, you know. There is so much to see within such a short distance these days, and, me, I barely go anywhere. Good thing there’s tour to kick my ass out of the house and into a few other cities (and countries).
Every time we are on tour—even when it is just for a couple of days—I am never quite certain. Do I love it? Do I hate it? You’d think those wouldn’t be two emotions that were so hard to tell apart. At the beginning the new rhythm is uncomfortable: Less sleep, constant newness and moving and resettling, mustering up lots of stage energy at exactly the time when I would usually be putting on sweatpants and falling into bed, little time to write or read. But after a few days the rhythm starts to feel familiar, and it starts to feel like we must have always been on the road, that there never was anything else except days in vans and people cooking you amazing dinners and breakfasts and venues and music and stages. For the first time since Baby Pickles was born, I haven’t done laundry in five days. Or cooked anything. How bad can it really be? Travel is awesome, right?
And yet, music-making travel is vastly different from any other kind of traveling I have ever done. In the usual sense, travel is a way of expanding your world. You meet new people, wander foreign streets, eat things you’ve never even heard of before. You absorb the life of the world around you, and you become bigger for all the newness forcing its way inside your head. Band touring has its elements of expansion as well—new people and food and places are still a part of the deal—and yet you find your world shrinking. Instead of digesting new worlds, you find yourself in a microcosm. There is the inside of the van, the venue, and the place where you will sleep. There are cities outside of the van window, and you might even take a walk around the neighborhood where you will be playing. But more often you don’t, more often you lay down on a couch in the venue so that you can keep it together on less sleep later, and you find that your world has shrunk to the size of the venue, the space around your seat in the car, and the stage you find yourself on each night.
With a world the size of a van seat and a music venue, the atmosphere in each becomes hugely important. Though I can’t recall ever playing a venue I hated, there have been nights that felt less comfortable than others. But this trip around I felt good at every stop we made. Of course, I also left early every night to get the babe and I into bed in time to avoid complete sleep-deprivation-zombie-melt-down, but besides a very small turn out in Karlsruhe, every night went pretty damn well.
In Frankfurt we played Cafe ExZess, a versatile autonomous space with an infoladen/lending library, bar, and theater with a tap dancing trio. In Mainz we played an on-campus restaurant called Baron with some very fine pizza and my favorite alcohol-free beer (Erdinger! Mmmm). In Solingen—another city I had never visited before and that was absolutely gorgeous with slate-sided houses in the middle of a lot of forest—we played a tiny, adorable Irish pub called Tom Bombadil. Not only did they serve Guinness (oh sweet sweet victory), but I got to meet Moonwaves! Wohoo! In Holland we met up with old friends at Baklust in the Hague (organic, vegetarian cafe that I demand you visit immediately if you are in town) and Vrankrijk in Amsterdam (one of the oldest squats in Holland, rumor has it).
This tour was one of the smoothest we’ve been on yet. The venues were all pleasant, the drives were all short, the sleeping arrangements were all fantastic (people take really good care of you when you are traveling with a baby), and the food was all fucking amazing. During our last tour, I was newly pregnant and dealing with a fuck-all case of morning sickness. I was constantly hungry, but could barely eat. Not that it mattered much, since all but one show organizer had served us chili, the last thing you want to eat when your stomach is a wreck and you’re going to be spending all day in an enclosed space with four other people who’ve got a pile of tomatoes and beans in their digestive tracks too. When I did manage to eat, I would jokingly tell my food, “I’ll see you again later.” Though I am still too traumatized to ever want chili again, the lack of both puking and chili made me really fucking happy this time around.
And of course, The Froggy Mountain Boys. Being on tour with another band, particularly a band who are really fucking good, is loads of fun. Spending seven days with five people who you’ve never met, well, that sounded like a potential disaster. But we all got along just fine, and a few of the Froggies were really good with Baby Pickles, which was helpful since we didn’t have any room in the van for an extra babysitter. (I’m going to go on about touring with a baby in more detail on Monday.) We tend to get put on a lot of punk bills (not that our music remotely fits in that context, but our attitude and message do) or play with local singer/songwriters. It was fucking brilliant to know that every night would end with a swinging Froggy performance. I have woken up with a song of theirs stuck in my head every night since we left. Encore encore!
If everything has gone according to plan, we’ve just arrived in the Hague, and tonight we’re going to play a cute (and delicious) little cafe called Baklust. My dear friend made these invitations/flyers for the show, and I was so taken with them that I had to share. Oo la la!
As for Walrus Day: Happy Walrus Day! From what I know, Walrus Day is a holiday invented by a friend of a friend. It is supposed to be a day on which you do all the things you’ve been wanting to do for forever, and just haven’t. So if you’ve been dying to screen print some Walrus Day patches, that’s what you do. (That’s what they did a while back, and I have the evidence in my sock drawer.) We’re in luck that we get to play a show at an awesome cafe with delicious food and even more delicious friends in one of my favorite Dutch cities.
Assuming you’ve only just heard of it, I imagine you haven’t had time to plan. But there’s no time like now. What are you going to do!?
Today it begins. Our tour with The Froggy Mountain Boys, our first long(ish) tour with Baby Pickles. I jump for joy for my ears, and I fear for my sleep. Being on tour with a baby is fun, but usually means even less sleep than usual. I go to bed late, Pickles wakes up early as usual. But The Froggy Mountain Boys! Yohoo! Yip yip! Yihaw! These folks are excellent musicians—western swing is what they do—and I am excited that every night for the next seven days, I will have the honor of playing music, exploring, and sitting in cramped buses with these five fine gentlemen. Did I mention that none of us have actually ever met? Shabam! Tour, here we come.
As you have probably already noticed, The Froggy Mountain Boys are fronted by Another Beard. We can only hope that no duels will result over issues of bushiness. Whose fiddle disappears under the most hair during a show? How many have already been lost in that other black forest? When Baby Pickles gets testy, the Beard can just tuck her up in his luscious red locks for a little nap while I dosey doe. A bearded union. But enough with the beards already.
If you’re around Germany or Holland, you can catch us live at these wheres on these whens:
October 3 // Halle 14, Karlsruhe, Germany (show starts at 6 pm sharp)
October 4 // Cafe ExZess, Frankfurt, Germany
October 5 // Baron, Mainz, Germany
October 6 // Der Bock, Mannheim, Germany
October 7 // Pub Tom Bombadil, Solingen, Germany
October 8 // Baklust, Den Haag, Holland
October 9 // Vrankrijk, Amsterdam, Holland
And speaking of catching us live, if you do, we now have fan-fucking-tastic baby merch. Every piece is different, so as of now it is only available at shows. If you desperately want to order a baby onie over the internet though, drop me a line and we’ll figure it out. But first, look! “Born to folk!” HardeeharharHAR!